I've used products from Sonore for many years. These guys are always on the cutting edge and have the ability to turn on a dime, releasing a product most of the industry will copy in due time. With respect to product support I'd put Sonore right up there with the best, if not the best at resolving customer issues quickly and completely. Not only do these guys get it, in many respects they are it.
Over the last couple years more hardware manufacturers have implemented Ethernet interfaces in their products. To the layman this may seem like the best solution and a way to exclude or stop using a product like the opticalRendu. If the DAC accepts Ethernet directly, why use a "middle man" that converts Ethernet to USB for input into the DAC? At first blush, and using the old ideal of straight wire with gain, it seems logical to bypass as many links in the audio chain as possible. However, there is a reason products like integrated amplifiers and all-in-ones are still relegated to second class citizens. It's because separate components can often provide the best performance, flexibility, and cutting edge features.
The Sonore opticalRendu and its sister the Signature Rendu SE optical are the current apex products in the digital to digital converter category. Both products accept network traffic through an optical interface and output digital audio via USB to the DAC of one's choice. Much more information about the optical input, how it works, and how to implement it can be seen in the Sonore opticalRendu in 5 minutes video above. One item not covered in the video is the new Sonore bi-directional opticalModule that converts copper (Ethernet) to optical and vice versa. This enables one to take full advantage of the opticalRendu without the need for a fiber capable network switch.
This review is divided into two parts. In this first part I'll cover some great aspects of the opticalRendu and give a brief opinion on its use in my system. I've had the unit since January and spent hundreds of hours with it in every configuration possible. In the second part of this review I will go much more in-depth about sound quality and focus heavily on the hidden gem in the Sonore lineup, the Signature Rendu SE optical. Why the split into two parts? As I write this, my new speakers are being manufactured and should be delivered to me around July 5, 2019. I have a temporary system that's quite capable of high end performance, but it's a major step down from that which I'm used to listening. Thus, everything sounds less than stellar right now. I want to get the new speakers in my listening room before I finish part two of this review. I think this method will serve everybody best.
By now most HiFi consumers know the Rendu series and its multi-facets. Roon Ready, UPnP/DLNA, AirPlay, SonoreUPnP Bridge, Spotify Connect, and a few others. Many consumers who've tried multiple UPnP/DLNA products also realize not all are created equal. I rank the Rendu UPnP/DLNA renderer as possibly the best in the business because of the Sonore team's ability to make it work incredibly well given that UPnP is the most non-standard standard. Has anyone ever had UPnP issues with a HiFi product? Rhetorical question that should have elicited painful chuckles in many readers.
Recently the Sonore team sent me an early release of its Sonicorbiter operating system (now available to everyone) that contained a new feature. In a way this feature is a throwback but also a response to several demands. Some consumers are tired of monthly or yearly subscription costs, some consumers are tired of network audio problems, and many consumers really don't have multi-terabyte libraries of local storage for which NAS solutions used. I was also happy to see this new feature because it's so damn simple. I get tired of fooling with technology now and then and understand how frustrating it can be to "guess what's wrong today" when one just wants to listen to music.
Enter the Sonic orbiter Local Storage option. Yes, local storage within the Rendu on its microSD card. This seems so 2010 but it's actually so 2019. The industry push for the longest time was more and more massive storage even though this was for the 1% of consumers with massive libraries. Massive storage requirements can introduce a host of compromises depending on what the consumer demands such as solid state storage, RAID, direct attached vs network attached storage, etc... I know, I've designed tons of systems of the years and run into all the issues possible. Want USB 3.0 (not 3.1) attached storage for 12TB, all SSD, RAID5 and an easy backup solution? Have fun on that adventure of compromises.
Anyway, I have an opticalRendu and Signature Rendu SE optical with the new local storage feature enabled. The microSD card inside is 400GB! A 512Gb card upgrade is only $299 now and a 1TB card upgrade will be available this fall for $550 from Sonore. These cards are from SanDisk as well, not some fly-by-night supplier on AliExpress. That said, Sonore doesn't have plans for user upgradable microSD cards. Upgrades will be handled through them very soon. I've been told an introductory upgrade price will also be offered for a limited time and this goes for all Rendu units, not just the opticalRendu and Signature Rendu SE optical.
The 400GB card in my Rendus is a touch small for what I'd like to store on it. Given that we can "all" stream lossless high resolution from Qobuz (sorry Canada), the need for local storage may be decreased for many. I'd love to store only my Mobile Fidelity, DSD rips, and other non-streamable gems locally on the Rendu and stream everything else via Qobuz. I completely understand that some consumers aren't satisfied with sound quality unless their music can be stored on local SSDs powered by linear supplies resting on butterfly feet floating on unicorn tears, so relying more on streaming isn't the end game solution for them (note: if we can't make fun of ourselves we are in bigger trouble than we think). However, most people really don't have large local storage needs. 400Gb may be a little light, but 500GB and 1TB could be the cat's pajamas (you know that phrase has more to do with Jazz music than felines right?).
The opticalRendu and Signature Rendu SE optical In My System
Between January and June I had the two Rendus in my system and connected to various DACs from dCS, EMM Labs, APL HiFi, ELAC / Audio Alchemy and more. My complete Ubiquiti UniFi network has optical ports that enable me to connect these devices as easy as a copper Ethernet device. In these early days I used the opticalRendu as a Roon Ready endpoint in my Constellation / TAD system. The sound was fantastic to say the least. I've noted in the past that the opticalRendu is the best Rendu every created by the team at Sonore and for the most part this still stands. Wait, what's up with "for the most part" you ask? OK, the optical series is what you want for sure, but I may now have a preference for the Signature Rendu SE optical. I can't say that I'd easily pick out the sonic differences in a blind test but it's the complete package with linear power supply built just for the Rendu inside. I can't wait to get my new speakers and listen to the Signature Rendu SE optical for hours upon hours. That sounds like so much fun said my wife at the dinner table last night. Just joking. Only us HiFi nuts would look forward to that like a kid at Christmas time. Believe me, I am so looking forward to it!
In early June the local storage option enabled microSD card was shipped overnight via UPS and I've been using it ever since. I actually shutdown my Roon ROCK for two reasons. The first is that it isn't needed in this configuration. The second is that it can interfere with the configuration I'm about to detail below.
Using the local storage option on an opticalRendu raises the question, how does one control and manage music? There are options and I tried most of them. I found all but one unsatisfactory. First let's go over the opticalRendu configuration I used, followed by how I controlled music playback. On the opticalRendu I only have two apps installed, Squeezebox Server and Squeezelite. The server is required for configuration of items such as DSD playback, library scanning, and streaming service setup. Squeezelite is the app that enables playback to the opticalRendu or even iOS device. All other apps such as HQPlayer NAA, Roon Ready, MPD / DLNA Renderer, etc... can be uninstalled.
At first I cringed at the thought of using anything with the prefix "Squeeze" in its name. Talk about going back in time 15 years! However, once the Rendu is setup the hideous Squeezebox Server interface can be ignored. For this to work I need a user interface on my iOS device that enabled music selection of both the locally stored content and Qobuz for streaming. This had to be a single interface and not one that required AirPlaying / Casting audio from the iOS device. The iOS app that met my requirements is iPeng. Yes, another blast from the past for many of us. Over the years iPeng's developer has continually improved the app, so much so that I highly recommend it rather than just recommend it because it's the lesser of the evils. iPeng is really good.
Recapping my opticalRendu setup: Squeezebox Server and Squeezelite installed on the Rendu and iPeng installed on my iPad Pro. I pointed Squeezebox Server to the local folder on the microSD card and added my Qobuz credentials for streaming. All was right in the Audiophile Style world. As an additional step it's possible to setup a QNAP or Synology NAS to automatically reach out to the opticalRendu to backup its local storage to the NAS. Nothing needs to be configured on the opticalRendu for this to work.
During the last few weeks I've been streaming my favorite podcasts, streaming lossless Radio Paradise, streaming lossless Qobuz, and playing a selection of locally stored content on the opticalRendu, all to my great satisfaction. This setup really checks a lot of boxes and surprised my cynical self quite a bit. There probably are other platforms that can do all this, I just don't know of another one that does it all at this high of level.
Part One Wrap-up
Just when some are doubting the need or capability of D to D converters, Sonore releases the opticalRendu, Signature Rendu SE optical, and enables local storage on the platform. There isn't a single box solution available with the same level of performance, flexibility, and cutting edge features as the Rendus. In addition, there isn't a yearly, monthly, or lifetime fee associated with all this greatness from Sonore. As soon as my new speakers are installed I'll be listening through the noiseless optical network connection of the Signature Rendu SE optical and publishing an extensive review of its sound quality in a reference system. Stay tuned.
Product: Sonore opticalRendu and Signature Rendu SE optical
Price: $1,295 and $3,445
Product Pages - LINK
- Source: Roon ROCK, 2018 MacBook Pro Running Roon, JRiver (Windows 10 and macOS Mojave)
- DAC: dCS Rossini, EMM Labs DV2
- D-to-D Converter: dCS Network Bridge, Sonore opticalRendu, APL HiFi DNP-SR
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Accessory: Octave Filter P-3
- Loudspeakers: TAD Labs CR1 Compact Reference
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro
- Playback Software: Roon, JRiver
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): Synology DS1812+, CAPS v4 Cortes Server
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: Transparent Audio Reference Power Isolator
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi USG Router, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x4, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload